blog post #415
Over the last year, I have taken a controversial stand against the alleged importance of fascia in therapy. I doubt that fascia is an important factor in any common pain problems, or that it can be manipulated with clinically meaningful results.
Throughout this process, I have received a lot of shockingly unprofessional hate mail. Most of those messages are very low on science or biology content. Nevertheless, a few popular fascia-related citations have been repeatedly, contemptuously thrown in my face — supposedly to show that I don’t know what I’m talking about.
The research of Dr. Robert Schleip has been the most popular example. Many times now I’ve been told that I am obviously not familiar with it, or I wouldn’t be “attacking” fascial therapy. Schleip’s famous discovery is that fascia has some capacity to contract. In fact, not only am I familiar with that research, I have read it carefully and written quite a bit about it.
Dr. Schleip is treated like something of a folk hero by fascia enthusiasts. They clearly believe that his research “proves” that fascia is clinically relevant — important, even.
I think that Dr. Schleip’s research is interesting biology — but demonstrates almost nothing whatsoever about its clinical importance. In particular, I explain that fascial contractions are very weak and slow: “Compared to the power of muscle contraction, fascia power barely even registers.”
Recently Dr. Schleip read my article on this topic and wrote to express his basic agreement with my key point about his research: “Your comments on the small size of fascial contractions are right on, at least when viewing these within the periods of seconds to minutes, as is usually applicable for bodywork techniques.” He also wanted me to know that he shares my annoyance with the “over-zealous claims and projections” of therapists doing fascial work. He is not thrilled with the way his research is being used to justify premature overconfidence in fascial therapy.
He also offered some thoughtful criticism on some specific points (and I made some changes, and will probably make more). Nevertheless, he had no major objections, and was generally pleased with what he read here: “You have my respect for your detailed and critical analysis of the present work on fascia. Most of the people who criticize you have not done a portion of your reading work and could certainly learn a lot from the debate you started.”
I invited him to make a statement for my readers about this. Here is it in full, with some emphasized highlights:
I share your emotional frustration with the current trend among bodyworkers of attributing anything wonderful or astonishing to the properties of fascia. In fact, our Fascia Research Group at Ulm University has been receiving an almost exponentially increasing number of inquiries from enthusiastic healers (and martial art teachers) worldwide who wish that we would sanctify their claims that fascial contraction provides the explanation for their observed miracle powers. While I do tend to believe that the fascial net plays much larger roles in human functioning than previously assumed in orthopedic medicine, I am afraid that such over-zealous claims and projections are undermining the seriousness of the investigation and academic rigor that characterizes the work of the current leaders in fascia research, such as P. Huijing, H. Langevin, T. Findley, P. Standley and A. Vleeming.
As a bodywork clinician myself, I have learned that there is hardly a more dangerous attitude among therapists than the hero healer/manipulator who is damn sure about his diagnosis and supposed treatment effects . This of course applies as much to fascia-oriented therapists as it does to those who base their work on supposed neuromuscular or other physiological effects, most of which are still unproven. “There is hardly a more dangerous attitude among therapists than the hero healer who is damn sure about his diagnosis & supposed treatment effects.”While scientists can learn a whole lot from the intuitive and experiential wisdom of complementary therapists, particularly about the non-fragmented and connecting properties of the fascial net, we bodyworkers can learn at least as much from the careful, questioning approach of good scientists, who are willing to doubt their own assumptions and to refrain from premature confidence and over interpretation of their findings. It is this mutual learning and interdisciplinary enrichment which in my opinion characterizes the best qualities of the current fascia research field, as expressed in the international Fascia Congress series and associated activities.
Again, Dr. Schleip and I do not agree about everything — but that is unimportant compared to our shared values and commitment to cautiously reserving judgement. We have each placed our bets on this topic, but not closed our minds. I fully support and endorse his enthusiasm to explore the biology … and he supports and endorses the value of my critical analysis.
Dr. Schleip’s statement has now been included with my main fascia article:
There are also 247 more articles and eight big tutorials on the website, plus dozens more timely updates and “posts.” See the complete categorized index, or get some reading recommendations for patients or professionals.